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Saturday, December 20, 2003 - Page updated at 12:59 A.M.

Mariners
Cirillo nixes trade to Mets

By Bob Finnigan
Seattle Times staff reporter

DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES
Mariner Jeff Cirillo is still due $15.125 million from the team but predicts he will be released.
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For the second time this week, the Mariners had a trade made, then unmade.

This time, it turned out that Jeff Cirillo didn't want to part company as much as the Seattle club does.

After the Mariners and New York Mets settled on details of a swap that would have brought outfielder Roger Cedeno to Seattle, the third baseman brought proceedings to a halt by exercising the no-trade clause in his contract.

"We had a deal worked out with a club, but the player has contractual rights, and he exercised his rights," Seattle general manager Bill Bavasi said, refusing to give more details. "So he is still a Mariner, until told otherwise."

Cirillo said the problem surfaced when the Mets called to sound him out about switching teams, then said he'd be a backup infielder there.

"I'd rather sit on the bench in Seattle where my kids are," Cirillo explained, "than sit in New York without my family around me."

Pitcher Freddy Garcia also is still a Mariner. While the Mariners received word yesterday that their efforts with the Mets had hit a wall, they also were trying hard to keep Garcia a Mariner beyond 9 p.m. today by signing him to a multi-year contract.

And in their growing interest about making shortstop Rich Aurilia a Mariner as well, Seattle made further contact with agent Barry Axelrod. "Depending on how the next 24 hours plays out, there is mutual interest," Axelrod said.

Well before the contract-tender deadline of 9 tonight, the Mariners will have to know if Garcia will accept their offer of a deal believed to be in the $6 million to $7 million range annually.

If Garcia agrees, and chooses not to become a non-tendered free agent, it is expected the pitcher's contract would eat up the financial leeway the Mariners built into the 2004 player payroll budget by limiting Ichiro's contract to a possible $7.5 million next season, including one-quarter of the prorated $6 million signing bonus, plus incentives.

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In the 24-hour period Axelrod referred to, there also may be more news on the quieted talks between Boston and Texas to send Alex Rodriguez to the Red Sox, in return for outfielder Manny Ramirez.

If that deal goes down, the Rangers will need a shortstop and are likely to activate what one party called "their latent interest" in signing Aurilia, who developed in their farm system before going to San Francisco in a trade for pitcher John Burkett six years ago.

If Garcia's agent, Peter Greenberg, does not agree to a contract, it is unclear whether the club will non-tender Garcia.

It is believed club officials have spent time going over the considerable pros and cons of letting go a No. 1 starting pitcher, although one who has had puzzling and costly stretches of poor performances in each of the past two seasons.

The Mariners' intense efforts to reach a contract agreement before facing a final non-tender decision give insight into the team's desire to retain Garcia. However, it would be at a salary the Mariners see as fitting for the ups and downs of 2002 and 2003, rather than a raise to $8 million or more Garcia might expect if he wound up in salary arbitration.

Were Garcia non-tendered — and as recently as two days ago a senior club official said that would be the case — there is little doubt Seattle would try to re-sign him as a free agent.

"But then there might be six or so teams who would try to sign him," a second club official said. "And the cost might increase that way."

At this point, it seems that if the bid to sign Garcia soon, the Mariners would get involved in contract talks for Aurilia, and the money available for contracts could go to him or one or two players who may be non-tendered by other teams today.

Meanwhile, Cirillo stays on the roster.

Hours after the third baseman exercised his rights, he was exercising his body last night, working out. But asked about Cirillo's decision to exercise his no-trade rights and not go to New York, his wife Nancy said, "Didn't anyone know? No one asked before."

Cirillo agreed around the end of the 2003 season to cut the number of clubs in his limited no-trade clause. But both New York teams were thought to remain on his shortened list.

It is believed Seattle officials moved ahead with a potential trade anyway, feeling that Cirillo's stated belief he'd be better off playing away from Seattle would override his desire not to play in New York.

While he is still a Mariner, there is no telling for how long.

Asked if he saw a release coming, Cirillo said, "It's a big check to write."

Despite $15.125 million still due him, the infielder predicted he would be let go.

"My intention is to go to camp and play the best I can for Seattle, but I can't see myself walking through the Mariners' door in spring training, and I told them that," he said. "You're trying to win a championship and, especially with new guys on the team, you don't need the distraction.

"I appreciate Bill being honest with me today, he seems like a great guy, but I wish someone from the Mariners had talked to me before. It's a bad situation. I've played so poorly it's come to this. I really wanted it to work in Seattle; maybe I wanted it too much."

Bob Finnigan: 206-464-8276 or bfinnigan@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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